A system of belief that takes its name from arminius (Jacobus Hermandszoon). During the 16th century much theological discussion centered in Holland. In their efforts toward attaining national independence, the people of Holland had been attracted to calvinism. Although they eventually accepted it as their national religion, in those early days many expressed dissatisfaction with rigid Calvinist principles, especially the teaching that God had predestined some to be saved and others to be lost even before the Fall (supralapsarians). These held the milder doctrine that while God foresaw the Fall, the formal decree was not made until after Adam's transgression (infralapsarians). Some professors at Leyden University who were opposed to strict Calvinism sought for tolerance of all religions, believing that persuasion, not persecution, should be the policy; they met with strong opposition. It was in such an atmosphere that Arminius made his studies. After he began his ministry he defended the strict Calvinist doctrine, but was later repelled by its harshness, and participated in a number of discussions that resulted in the formulation of his own doctrine. Appointed at Leyden, he found himself involved in controversy, especially with a fellow professor, Franciscus gomarus, who upheld the rigid Calvinist principles of absolute predestination with strong feelings and bitter antipathy toward his adversaries.
As a religious system, the teaching of Arminius was stated in the Remonstrance of 1610. The major points of departure from stricter Calvinism were contained there: (1) atonement was intended for all men, (2) man needs grace, yet is able to resist it and can even lose it. This denial of absolute predestination and admission of the concurrence of free will and grace were strongly condemned by Gomarus, who feared that such a view would undermine the Protestant teaching on salvation. Dutch Protestants were divided; the general populace inclined toward Gomarus, while many of the learned and a number of high public officials favored Arminius. The discussions became so heated that there was fear of a civil war in some of the Dutch provinces. The professors debated even before the States General in 1608 and 1609. Though Arminius seemingly won the arguments and appeared in a favorable light to those who followed the discussions, Gomarus gave the impression that Arminian doctrines would disrupt the national unity that was being accomplished through strict Calvinist belief. Maurice of Orange, impressed with Gomarus's argument, and believing that the Arminians favored the pro-Spanish party in politics, attacked the group. After their condemnation at the Synod of Dort (1618–19), they were persecuted and banished by the prince. Arminianism was tolerated in Holland after the death of its founder, but it was not until 1795 that it was able to gain official recognition (see confessions of faith).
The Arminians are one of the smaller religious sects in Holland. Yet their teachings have been taken over by some Methodists, by many individuals who belong to churches that are Calvinist in name, by some Baptists, and by members of other religions.
Bibliography: g. o. mcculloh, ed., Man's Faith and Freedom (New York 1962), contains addresses of the Arminius symposium held in Holland 1960. r. l. colie, Light and Enlightenment: A Study of the Cambridge Platonists and the Dutch Arminians (Cambridge, Eng. 1957). f. a. christie, "The Beginnings of Arminianism in New England," American Society of Church History. Papers, Ser. 2, v.3 (1912) 151–172. w. f. dankbaar, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart. 1:620–622. y. congar, Catholicisme 1:845.
[l. f. ruskowski]
ARMINIANISM, a form of theological thought based on the 1608 Declaration of Sentiments of the Dutch theologian Jacobus Arminius (1559–1609). Often referred to as "anti-Calvinism," Arminianism holds the freedom of the human will as its basic tenet and thus denies one of John Calvin's foundational ideas: the irresistibility of the grace of God. Arminius states that God's grace is indeed resistible because all human beings are responsible for
their own thoughts and actions. Accordingly, sin is actual because it is possible, in direct contrast to Calvin's treatment of sin as purely theoretical because of the inability of the elect to sin. Therefore, Arminianism states that salvation requires both willful repentance and willful acceptance of God's grace, not simply a helpless reliance on arbitrary election.
Arminianism's belief in the role of man's free will fueled the evangelical fervor of the nineteenth century, and its adoption by John Wesley was a driving force in the formation of the powerful Methodist denomination both in England and in America. Arminianism widely appeared in America during the early 1740s as an engagement of the Puritan and Presbyterian reliance on Calvin's principles; in doing so, ministers addressed the major focuses of Jonathan Edwards's preaching and of the entire Great Awakening (1734–c. 1745).
American Arminians combined Armenius's ideas with the Enlightenment's reliance on reason and rational thought to offer a theology that resonated with the beliefs of many of the nation's citizens. Some of these broader philosophies included a work ethic that valued honest and thoughtful toil, the sense that their work ultimately held some meaning and purpose, and the attitude of voluntarism and reform that became prevalent during the nineteenth century. These final attributes were fed by the Second Great Awakening and the general evangelicalism that pervaded American Methodist and Baptist churches during that same period. As a result, the inclusive doctrines of Arminianism passed from heresy into an orthodoxy that remains strong at the beginning of the twenty-first century.
Sell, Alan P. F. The Great Debate: Calvinism, Arminianism, and Salvation. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1983.